I haven’t been very good about doing homework, lately. Mainly reading blogs by and for other educators. And when it comes to blogging, at least 50% of the process should be reading what others are saying. It’s silly to think I’m the only blogger/educator with anything meaningful to say.
As a student, I was as anti-homework as a body could get. I never took a book home and hated those special projects assigned by various creative teachers. It seemed like the social studies teachers were the most oppressive, there. Students were putting together model ships, making home-made waterwheels, putting together miniature Apollo orbiters out of toothpicks and tin foil, or sewing together a 6×6 foot flag. all of these were made with obvious “help” from a parent. Mainly, the parent did it. My projects were obviously 100% student made. That means they were shoddy, messy and slapped together hastily. I grew up milking cows; I had better things to do after school than homework. “Homework” for me entailed hours of chores, outside, in the weather. Not that I would have devoted free time to schoolwork at home, anyway. All homework was tedious, boring and repetitive. and my parents were not of the mind to fight and argue with me about it.
Now, as a parent, Thomas brings home tedious, boring, repetitive homework. Jane tries to encourage me to get more involved with the boys and helping with homework is one of her ideas. And it is not a good one. I can get him to do it, but my heart is absolutely not in it. I do not see anymore value in doing a bunch of busywork than he does. He’s inherited his father’s abhorrence for all things redundant, at least in regards to learning. I think I might actually hate helping with homework with the same passion as I hated doing it when I was in middle/high school. He knows how to do the stuff and I basically function as task master, making sure he doesn’t get distracted and that he finished before bed. The boy is only in 1st grade! I agree with Alfie Kohn: kids have better things to do outside of school.
As Michele said, teacher education does nothing to prepare teachers in giving homework. Like discipline, it is an almost inescapable part of teaching and being a teacher. But it is not explicitly taught or addressed when one is studying about how to do the things that teachers do. School policies and practices are way out of tune with research.
Just to extend on the topic a bit more, I’ll add that private schools may be even more out of touch than public schools. Homework and study time are integral parts of the private/charter school experience. The one I taught in years ago mandated that every student be given at least 40 minutes of homework every single day. That’s for every subject. And then if they failed a quiz or test (and quizzes were given daily) they were to be given an extra study hall and an extra hour of homework. Some students had so many extra study halls, that they spent every Saturday at school, all day, sitting in that room at a study carrel. And no one gave any guidance on the type of homework except to say how long it should take. Too bad if it took longer. what was the penalty for incomplete homework? An extra study hall with an additional hour of homework.
I got away with doing less homework as a student because I lived in a rural area. A lot of my classmates were milking cows before and after school (where I only had chores after school) and were often sleeping during school hours. The teachers had to be somewhat flexible, although they typically regarded us as a bunch of hillbillies.
Today, in suburban America, there are expectations and policies that say homework must be given and in practice it is usually just busy work. Sometimes schools try to play the role of social agent by sending work home that actually requires parents to participate. I can think of very little homework sent home with a student in kindergarten that does not require some form of parent participation. And last year, Thomas had well over an hour of it every single night. With my poor attitude about homework, it fell on Jane to crack the whip in getting him to do it. And you can just imagine how she felt about me, and the resentment THAT kicked up. While it didn’t appreciably increase Thomas’ academic skills at all, it certainly did put an even greater strain on a marriage dealing with 2 children with disabilities and the busy schedules surrounding the extra work involved in doing anything.
But the pro-homework folks are not thinking about that. Everyone thinks that family involvement is all good, and any activities designed to get the family involved should enhance a child’s education. So schools go out of their way to encourage it, if not try to force it. But instead of binding a family together, it ends up being a sore spot and a source of stress. We are working longer hours, driving further to work, with limited quality time with our children. Now, what little time we have is dominated by squabbles over homework. Thanks, schools. Thanks a lot.
It’s small wonder that a good percentage of homework is actually done by the parents. Let’s just get this crap done, so Johnny doesn’t flunk, and then we can get on with our lives! The temptation to just grab it and do it just to be done is enormous! I feel kind of silly writing each letter of the alphabet 30 times, but I figure that if Jane takes 10 letters, and I take 10 letters and Thomas takes 6 letters, we should all be able to finish before bed time.